May 2022 Bulletin ref1

From Our President

This month’s Bulletin arrives in your mailbox in that strange interlude between Passover, the festival of our freedom, and Shavuot, the time when we celebrate the awe-inspiring moment of receiving the Torah at Sinai and becoming the Jewish people. Traditionally, it is the time for counting the omer, the 49-day period commemorating the early grain harvest. Each day combines to form a bridge between freedom as simple liberation from slavery on the one hand and the assumption of our new status, responsibilities and identity on the other. Strictly observant Jews also experience this reflective period by refraining from holding large celebrations or parties and reciting the count daily.

In this tradition, the 33rd day, Lag BaOmer, stands as an exception, with a lifting of the restrictions and is a popular wedding day in some communities. As so often happens, this very old holiday takes on a strikingly modern cast through its association with the end of a dreadful plague that had struck Rabbi Akiva’s students. Perhaps we will be fortunate enough this year in mid-May to see our own plague shifting into sharp decline, brightening the summer months ahead with the promise of travel and shared time together in the same space with far less anxiety.

I don’t know about you, but all too often over the last several months, I’ve found my thoughts turning to the weary resignation expressed by the writer of Ecclesiastes. The wheel of time turns, but things do not change. We believe we’ve figured things out, but we regress. While the pessimistic author, whom Wikipedia informs me was writing sometime between 450-200 BCE, obviously wasn’t thinking about COVID-19, the war and dreadful atrocities in Ukraine, the threat of climate change, or legislation and state policies actively seeking to cut back on hard-fought rights in the United States, the sentiment fits. Perhaps, though, our path from Passover to Shavuot can leave us in a more hopeful place both emotionally and spiritually. So, what did we learn in our journey to Sinai?

  • We had to believe that things would get better. We relied on the Eternal to provide for us on a daily basis and to lead us through the desert to a new reality. At times, the people faced a choice to stay on this path or turn back, and sometimes this choice was a close call, but we stayed on the path of reaching toward the future.
  • We had to do it together. Moses may have been the leader, but he recognized the importance of the community and refused the Eternal’s offer to ditch the complaining, stubborn, resistant group who had left Egypt and start afresh. We did not disappoint him; we came together to forge a real community. Moses learned to delegate authority and to disperse command, and ultimately every person, both adult and child, stood before the Eternal at Sinai.
  • We had to commit to do the work. Living in the desert was more than mere survival. Censuses were taken. Government and law were developed. Rituals were built. The sacred housing for the tablets was created.
  • We had to reach a place of receptivity when we could envision ourselves and our destiny as so much more than a ragged tribe of wanderers. We had to make ourselves ready to embrace and commit to living up to a moral code so radical that it has survived to this day. We knew we would fail often on an individual level, but we were willing to identify ourselves with that set of aspirations.

Nothing new under the sun? No, on that day there was. The problems we face are not small, but ambition and even audacity are wired into our collective DNA as a people. Our tradition says that on that day at Sinai, we all stood together – everyone who was born Jewish, who would be born Jewish in the future, or would choose Judaism or feel themselves to be chosen by Judaism as their life’s path. And so, in the midst of everything that is going on in the world, we will keep moving forward toward renewing our covenant of hope and life.

L’shalom,

Julie Novkov

B'nai Sholom Albany NY